- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 16, 2005

BAGHDAD — U.S. troops conducted raids in Mosul and other areas of northern and central Iraq yesterday, arresting dozens, even as a top American official conceded U.S. and Iraqi forces cannot stop “extraordinary” intimidation by terrorists before this month’s national elections.

The crackle of small-arms fire reverberated through a busy neighborhood in the center of Baghdad, sending shoppers scurrying and underscoring the precarious security situation less than two weeks before balloting.

The violence centered on Mosul, the country’s third-largest city, where gunmen killed a member of a local government council and set off explosives as a U.S. convoy passed, damaging a Bradley fighting vehicle. It was not clear whether there were casualties. Mortar fire damaged a school to be used as a polling place.

Terrorists killed three policemen and wounded seven others 25 miles southeast of Baghdad as they were driving new police cars to the southeastern city of Kut, police said.

In central Baghdad, insurgents attacked an Iraqi national guard patrol on the east side of the Tigris river and then melted into the crowd in the open market area, sending shoppers running. Sounds of heavy machine-gun and automatic-weapons fire reverberated for nearly an hour along Haifa street on the western side of the river.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz acknowledged that the security threat to the Jan. 30 elections was worse than in October’s nationwide balloting in Afghanistan and that it was impossible to guarantee “absolute security” against the “extraordinary intimidation that the enemy is undertaking.”

“There was intimidation in Afghanistan — the Taliban threatened all kinds of violence against people who registered or people who voted,” he said in Jakarta, Indonesia. “But I don’t believe they ever got around to shooting election workers in the street or kidnapping the children of political candidates.”

Even in heavily Shi’ite areas of south-central Iraq, which is far more stable than Mosul or Baghdad, several election workers have been threatened and resigned in recent days, a senior U.S. Embassy official said.

“Most expect a high turnout if things seem quiet enough. There is some worry if you have a series of car bombs, people will think twice about coming,” the official said in Hillah while outlining election preparations in the region.

Around Mosul, the U.S. Army’s Stryker Brigade Combat Team detained 11 suspected insurgents, including a purported cell leader, and seized weapons and bomb-making material in several weekend raids — part of the military’s strategy to try to secure the city.

The Mosul area has emerged as a major flash point between U.S. and Iraqi forces and the insurgents, raising fears the election cannot be held in much of the city.

U.S. and Iraqi officials are scrambling to recruit new police and election workers in Mosul after thousands of them resigned in the face of rebel intimidation. Similar mass resignations are thought to have occurred in other Sunni areas of northern, central and western Iraq.

Elsewhere, the body of a man was found in a street in the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi with a paper on his back identifying him as an Egyptian citizen.

“This will be the punishment of anyone who deals with American forces,” the paper read.

Terrorists also fatally shot an Iraqi translator for a Philippine company working on water projects for multinational forces near Kut, a medical official said.

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